We all know the Indians' defense must improve, but what steps will be taken to try to make that happen?
-- Mark K., Las Vegas
Tribe manager Terry Francona noted during the Winter Meetings that some changes could be coming to the Spring Training workout program in an effort to address Cleveland's defense. In a lengthy sit-down with reporters prior to the recent Tribe Fest event, Francona went into further detail on some of the plans.
1. The Indians plan on running plays at game speed and to completion during Spring Training drills. What this means is that, rather than simulating a run-down, for example, the team will let a play develop on the field and react accordingly. This approach has the potential to better simulate the unpredictable nature of a game situation.
2. Cleveland's fielders will take some ground balls in various defensive-shift alignments. During camp, the daily routine usually includes fielding grounders at the traditional spots around the infield. That does not simulate the kind of shifts that are often in play during the regular season. Mixing in some shift drills can help provide repetition for such scenarios.
3. Bench coach Brad Mills will likely skip some road trips to remain at the complex to work with fielders. Francona does not feel having a bench coach is always necessary for a Cactus League game, so the manager believes that Mills can be better utilized back at the home site with players who are not on that particular trip.
4. Third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh, who doubles as the team's infield instructor, will hold defensive workouts for players who exit Cactus League games early at home. Especially early in camp, the regulars do not play a full game. When they leave the contest, they will still be loose and in game condition, so Francona feels that is a great time to squeeze in some extra drills.
These are a few of the ideas that Francona and his staff have come up with for this spring. The Indians also feel that beginning the season with Jose Ramirez at shortstop and Carlos Santana at first base will help continue the progress shown in the infield in the second half last year.
What do you project the starting lineup and starting five in the rotation to be on Opening Day, assuming all of the guys are on track to be healthy?
-- Andy L., Littleton, Colo.
I'd expect Michael Bourn to be back in the leadoff spot, through an improved on-base percentage is as important for the center fielder as increasing his stolen-base total this season. The second spot is a tough call right now. Francona loved Ramirez in that position down the stretch last year, but I could see second baseman Jason Kipnis slotting in there as well.
I'd project left fielder Michael Brantley, Santana and Brandon Moss to be in the Nos. 3-5 slots, while catcher Yan Gomes and Nick Swisher look like good bets for Nos. 6-7. Either Moss or Swisher would be in right field, with the other in the lineup as the designated hitter. If Kipnis is batting second, third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and Ramirez could round things out in the final two spots.
As for the rotation, I don't think it's any secret that Corey Kluber will be the No. 1 starter. What might be surprising to some is that Francona has hinted that veteran Gavin Floyd might follow Kluber in the second spot. From there, I'd expect Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer to be in the Nos. 3-4 slots. To me, it's a toss-up between T.J. House and Danny Salazar for the fifth spot right now.
Could the Indians turn the right-field logjam into a trade during Spring Training?
-- @OldManBikshorn (via Twitter)
Definitely. If Moss, Swisher, David Murphy and Ryan Raburn are all healthy and ready to go for Opening Day, Cleveland could certainly explore a trade to free up the jam. During Tribe Fest, Murphy made it known that, while he's willing to accept a reduction in at-bats, he doesn't want to see his playing time slip to the 150-at-bat range. If it looks like he'll be in a minimal role, I'd expect the Indians to try to find a landing spot for the veteran outfielder.
In the hypothetical where Moss, Swish and/or Raburn aren't healthy, which outfielder is likely to be next in line? James Ramsey? Tyler Holt?
-- @joelkincannon (via Twitter)
In that kind of situation, it helps to be on the 40-man roster. Of the two players you mentioned, Holt is on the roster, and he spent a good chunk of time with the Indians last season. Another player to keep in mind is Zach Walters, who can handle the outfield and some infield positions. While Ramsey is a highly regarded prospect, I think a few more chips would have to fall for him to leapfrog the others on the depth chart.
Baseball Prospectus just released their 2015 PECOTA projections, and they have the Tigers winning the American League Central with just 82 wins -- only one game ahead of the 81-81 Indians. How many wins do you think it will take to clinch the Central this year?
-- D.P. R., Milford Center, Ohio
My gut reaction to those projections was that 82 wins seems too low for the AL Central winner this year. Over the past 10 seasons, it has taken an average of 92.7 wins to capture the Central division crown. Over that same time period, it has taken 93.4 wins on average to win the top AL Wild Card. To be in position to win the second Wild Card, the 10-year sample has an average of 90 required wins. No matter which postseason spot Cleveland tries to run down, it will likely (historically speaking) take more than 82 wins.
Will the Indians have their two World Series trophies on display at the new bar they're building as part of the renovations?
-- Rex H., Cedar Rapids, Iowa
The World Series trophy as you know it today (officially called the Commissioner's Trophy) did not come into existence until 1967. So, while the Indians do not have a trophy for their 1920 or '48 Series triumphs, team president Mark Shapiro said that the club has discussed displaying the 1995 and '97 AL championship trophies in the bar. However, no final decisions have been made about the memorabilia that will be included.
Is there an update on the Indians' plans to help out the Bob Feller Museum in Van Meter, Iowa? Will there be items from that museum brought to Progressive Field?
-- Kevin S., Chicago
The Indians are bringing some items to Progressive Field, and the team plans on creating a display in the third-floor Terrace Club in time for Opening Day. The team has not revealed which items will be coming to Cleveland, but one known artifact will be one of Feller's bats. An ailing Babe Ruth borrowed and leaned on this particular bat on Babe Ruth Day at Yankee Stadium in 1947.